Nate Hake is the founder of Travel Lemming, a blog about emerging destinations and travel trends. Nate started the blog as a hobby but has since taken it full time and lives as a digital nomad.
We chatted in 2020, before the world was deep in the grip of a pandemic that essentially ended travel.
📍 On Argentina
“Argentina is potentially going to default on its debts again. And this has sent their currency all over the map. You can actually get significantly better exchange rate on the unofficial blue market.
There’s the official rate, and then there’s the real rate. It does make it a little crazy, but it means that at the moment, it’s a very affordable destination if you’re paying in dollars or euros.”
📍 Why travel to emerging destinations?
“One of the things that we talk about at Travel Lemming is travel to, not necessarily extremely off the beaten path, but to consider the possibility that so much of travel media forces travelers down the same, very narrow paths. We want to encourage them to think a little more broadly than that. And so that can mean going to places that are less heard of.
It can also mean even within a place that’s a little more established, trying to branch out and to go beyond the typical tourist track.
📍 On the Emerging Destinations awards
The most famous fun annual list we put out is called the emerging destinations awards, where we engage most of the tourism boards, most of the national-level tourism boards in the world who submit nominations. And then we have a panel of judges who are made up of the top travel bloggers in the travel industry. We put out that list and it gets quite a bit of press every year.”
📍 How to get exposure in travel media
“It gets press because it’s typically a list filled with places that people don’t expect to be interesting places to travel, but that actually are really interesting. And then we spend the following year writing about those places or as many of them as we can. Last year’s list was 30 places.”
📍 What about doing tours to emerging destinations?
“I have a lot of friends who do tours and I have definitely thought about doing tours to Mexico or to Georgia, which are two of the places where I have a lot of content and a lot of followers. But it just sounds like a lot of work. Doesn’t it?”
📍 Why start travel blogging?
“When you graduate with a quarter million dollars in debt, there’s very little you can do to pay that off other than take a high-paying law job. So that’s what I did. Once I got that debt under control, after about five years of practicing as a civil litigator at a big firm, I set out to travel.
I didn’t set out to become a travel blogger. I just set out because I wanted to travel. And then along the way started the blog and the blog has grown. At some point it took off and then I realized this is actually what I enjoy doing and it’s making money. So let’s just focus on that full-time.”
📍 Why Georgia should be your next travel destination
“I will tell anybody who will listen about how amazing Georgia is because I genuinely believe that it’s the world’s most underrated travel destination at the moment.
And it’s also a country that can really use it’s a place where travelers can really do a lot of good. The Georgian economy at the moment is hurting after Russia shut down flights to Georgia and Georgia really want visitors.
I’ve never been to a place where the locals are as excited about the prospect of me promoting their country as they are in Georgia. And it’s such an incredible country. If you think about the world’s great civilizations in Europe and the Middle East and Asia and Russia, Georgia’s in the middle of all of that.
There’s so much history that has come through Georgia over the millennia. And that’s reflected in everything from the architecture to the culture, to the food. And yet, at the same time, Georgia maintains its very own unique culture. It has its own language family. That’s completely disconnected from any other language family, which is something very few other places can say. I just find it a totally fascinating place to go.”
📍 On Georgia’s cost of living
“A European-style destination on a Southeast Asian budget. Georgia is comparable to Thailand at the moment in terms of how much it costs. It’s not a tax Haven quite as much as some other places are, but it does have pretty low taxes, and it’s very easy to get set up and to do business. And I know a lot of people are moving their money there. It’s crazy how how affordable a quality a one-bedroom apartment is in Tbilisi. You can get something to own for 30 or 40,000 USD.”
📍 What are the challenges with travel blogging?
“One of the challenges of starting a travel blog is that you start, you write all this stuff, and nobody reads it. And then over time you figure out that the hardest part of travel blogging, isn’t writing, it’s the marketing of your blog and getting it out there.
Figure that out and you get the audience.
All of the various tasks that are involved in travel blogging, like affiliate marketing, SEO, making sure all the technical stuff is set up, doing all your social media, reaching out to contacts, and managing the people that you have working for you, eats up your entire day.
📍 Why email is a great marketing channel
“Email is hard because it’s super important, right? It’s the only channel that you truly control.
People talk about SEO as if it has a leg up on Facebook or Instagram, because Facebook or Instagram can change tomorrow and suddenly stop sending you as many clicks.
And they’ve done that many times in the travel space, and so can Google. Email is truly the only channel where you own it yourself. People read their emails. I get open rates of 40 to 50%.
However, email seems to work best these days when it’s highly segmented and highly targeted.
If someone comes to our site to read an article about some destination in Mexico, we should send them a totally different set of emails than what we would send to somebody who comes to read our digital nomad articles.
The problem with that is it just takes time to create all those email sequences and get them set up. Where we’ve done it, it’s been very effective.”
📍 Why social media is not a marketing priority for the blog
“Social media is not important to my business. All of these social media sites have a total incentive to keep people on their site. Unless you’re engaged with monetizing content on Instagram through putting a sponsored post somewhere, it’s hard to make money off it.
I use Instagram for brand building.
The one that has an impact is Pinterest. Because Pinterest does drive traffic. Pinterest, in my mind, is a search engine.”
📍 Nate’s view of the digital nomad lifestyle
“A couple of years ago you had all these people posting photos of themselves with laptops on the beach, which doesn’t work by the way. Sand and sun do not mix well with laptops.
it’s a popular topic now to come down on digital nomads and say, Oh, it’s this lonely, miserable lifestyle.
I don’t think that’s true. I think it is what you make it right. Like if you’re, and I think a lot of people come to the digital nomad life because they’re struggling with something back home. Because back home they’re unhappy with their work. They’re unhappy with their life. They feel bored. They feel dull.
They want to experience the world. Whatever those common reasons for becoming a digital nomad are, it is true that getting out and traveling can definitely help with some of that stuff.
But if you have a fundamental problem with your life, simply becoming a digital nomad, isn’t going to solve it.”
📍 Why starting a business before you become a digital nomad is a smart
“I think a lot of people think it’s a bigger cure all than it really is. And so for that reason, sometimes people suffer from having these like crazy high expectations. And they get out there and they realize, Oh, this doesn’t fix everything.
People say, “I’m going to go travel and start a business”, but those are two separate decisions. And they don’t necessarily always play well together. One challenge is that you have to invest in the business in the form of time and money up front. And a small business isn’t going to generate an income for the owner until significantly into it.
Either start your business before you leave so that you have the income ready when you go.
Or start your business but also have a separate source of income, either in the form of a remote job or freelance or work. So that your business has the time and the runway that it needs to be able to breathe without you sucking a salary out of it.”
- Travel Lemming Website
- Nate’s Instagram
- Travel Lemming Pinterest account
- Downsides of the digital nomad lifestyle
- Digital nomad resources
Travel blogging and business tools mentioned: